By Marie Bergström, Françoise Courtel, Géraldine Vivier, Harriet Coleman
Since the 1970s, the age at first partnership has risen, and separations have become more common. Both men’s and women’s lives are increasingly punctuated by partnerless periods, first in early adulthood and also later in their relationship histories. In this article, taking an life-course approach and looking at subjective experiences of singlehood, we show that it varies according to age, sex, and social background. Life without a partner seems most burdensome for people in their early 30s, while low-income women say they gain a much-appreciated independence despite their material difficulties. This diversity apart, conjugality rates are high, lifelong singlehood is rare, and couplehood is a powerful social norm that puts great pressure on men and women alike. A cross-analysis of quantitative and qualitative material from the EPIC study of individual and conjugal trajectories (Étude des parcours individuels et conjugaux, INED–INSEE, 2013–2014, France), shows that while separations are more common and forms of couplehood more varied, the social norm of being in a couple has strengthened rather than weakened over time.